Times of Malta reporter told court he feared a ‘trap’ when he met with Yorgen Fenech’s lawyers
Times of Malta reporter Ivan Martin told a court that after being offered payment by Yorgen Fenech’s lawyers following a meeting, he feared the whole meeting might have been a trap.
Martin was cross-examined on the witness stand by lawyer Giannella De Marco, who is appearing with lawyer Stephen Tonna Lowell for lawyers Charles Mercieca and Gianluca Caruana Curran, before magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras earlier today. Mercieca and Caruana Curran are accused of trying to bribe the journalist.
During his 90 minutes of grilling, Martin refused to answer certain questions that he said could infringe on the confidentiality of journalists’ sources.
He said he was in contact with Mercieca for the first time after the latter left his post at the Attorney General’s office. The two had met on Friday, October 30, and discussed Martin’s investigations into former police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar.
“Am I correct that you discussed the phone call between Cutajar and Edwin Brincat known as il Gojja who came out during the cross-examination of the Superintendent? [Keith] Arnaud?
“Yes at our Friday meeting, our first in the office, we discussed this topic,” Martin replied.
Other meetings have been arranged, he said. Martin confirmed that he sent the lawyer a draft of an article he wrote, based on this conversation and his own investigations.
He said he asked the lawyer if he knew the date of Cutajar’s appeal. It was the only question he had asked her, Martin said. “There were other questions in my mind that I hadn’t asked.”
The lawyer showed a copy of the article written by Martin and his fellow journalist Jacob Borg, asking if it was the same article he was referring to. Martin confirmed that this was the case.
“We then agreed to meet on Monday to verify the information and so on,” said the journalist. The meeting took place at the Mercieca office, Martin said. Co-accused Gianluca Caruana Curran was not there at first, but arrived later.
De Marco asked the witness if he had been to Gozo the weekend before the meeting. “I don’t think so,” he replied. “How about I suggest if you are in Gozo with friends and come on Monday?” The lawyer probed. “I’m sorry, I don’t remember.”
“During the meeting,” suggested De Marco, “did you also tell them to be careful what they say or have in their office because they must have a mole? “
“What I said was that a third party had disclosed information to me,” corrected Martin. “I don’t know if I presented it as a fact or a hypothesis.”
De Marco suggested that what he told them was that lawyer Jason Azzopardi had “harassed him about this meeting”.
Martin said he didn’t remember it, but in a hurry by the defense, said he couldn’t rule it out either.
The defense attorney asked what Azzopardi had wanted to talk to him about that morning. Martin said he couldn’t remember. ” I do not remember. I don’t want to testify about what I don’t remember. I don’t want to mislead the court, ”he said.
De Marco said it was difficult to understand why he had no idea what the call was about. “Does he call you often?” Asked the lawyer. The witness answered in the affirmative, qualifying his answer. “I have a lot of conversations with a lot of people.”
“You don’t have to protect him so much,” De Marco teased. “Does he call you often?” Does he tell you about the case against Yorgen Fenech? asked De Marco.
Martin held on, however. “It’s in the area of reporter / source communication and I wouldn’t answer.”
“This is not a libel case, it is a criminal case,” coaxed the lawyer. “I’m telling you if he’s a source, fine but if not… is he calling you about the Yorgen Fenech affair?”
Martin respectfully declined to answer. The court asked the defense to move on.
De Marco turned to questions about his meeting with Caruana Curran and Mercieca. “You mentioned that when you spoke to Charles Mercieca and Caruana Curran, they wanted to talk about the media coverage bias against their client? “Yes,” Martin confirmed.
“You also mentioned that at the end of the meeting Caruana Curran put her hand out and you didn’t notice it was money. Did it come into your hand?
“Yes,” replied the reporter, “but he was fired. “
Asked by the defense whether he had attended seminars on investigative journalism, he said he had received “very limited and sporadic training”. He did not remember telling the accused lawyers about it.
When confronted with De Marco about whether he had a computer program that “gave him details about people,” he said no. The lawyer pressed him on the words “open source” that he had used with the lawyers during their interview. “You mean Google? I am using open source as a descriptor, not as an actual program, ”said Martin.
“You talk about a very short online conference from Bellingcat to learn how to use open source information… I don’t have a special program that allows me…”
De Marco joked that such a statement could unduly impress a lawyer.
Martin said he may have mentioned that he just finished this lecture.
The defense lawyer then suggested that he had even agreed to meet with the accused again in the course of the following week, as the meeting was cut short.
Martin clarified that he was not sure whether this happened before or after the money offer.
“What worried you was that they might have taken a picture of you with the money in hand?” De Marco asked.
“It was a consideration, of course in hindsight,” Martin explained. “But it happened so quickly, the rejection was a reflex.”
“After the incident there were a number of things that worried me, one of them was that it could have been a trap.”
With that, De Marco stated that there were no further questions for the witness.
The case continues in November.
Superintendent James Grech and Inspector Anthony Scerri continue.
Lawyers Giannella De Marco and Stephen Tonna Lowell are the defense lawyers.